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Tolkien: A Tale For Our Times; Lessons In An Age Of Ignorance


      How is it that people can continue to support Trump? The answer most commonly voice is that he has mastered the power of resentment, anger, fear, anxiety and hate to create a powerful political movement. Others in the world, generally those he admires, have done the same. History is replete with similar movements with visions of the dictators whose worldview resulted in WWII.

      I have suggested here and on other forums that a necessary ingredient upon which such movements are grounded is ignorance. A strong grounding in the facts accompanied by an accurate analysis of what those facts mean is essential to striking a balance in opposition to leanings that so often lead to massive discord.

      Last night I saw Tolkien......a very well executed biopic about J.R.R. Tolkieb, an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic, who is best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarllion. Critical reviews on this film have been 50/50 but audiences have loved it. Small audiences I suspect but nevertheless appreciative ones. I came away keenly aware that great learning is not a presumptive antidote to a descent into madness. It helped me to understand how it is that even the very bright, and highly educated, can be drawn into insanity.

      This is a thoughtful exposition about the power of human thought to both lead upward and downward; to civilize and to hail barbarity, to bring good and progressive order and to cause regressive chaos.


      SOURCE: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900069908/movie-review-tolkien-2019-lord-of-the-rings-lily-collins-nicholas-hoult-world-war-1.html

      You don’t have to be a “Lord of the Rings” fan to appreciate Dome Karukoski’s excellent “Tolkien,” but fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels and films will especially appreciate this sharp biographical effort that provides insights into one of the 20th century’s most beloved authors.

      Karukoski’s film toggles between two critical periods in Tolkien’s life, setting the stage for the creation of the novels that would define his career. The “contemporary” narrative takes place during the author’s service in World War I, as Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) battles his way through the chaos of the Western Front to locate a childhood friend who has gone missing in action.

      Flashbacks from those scenes recount Tolkien’s childhood and adolescence, which was marked by the death of his parents and the forming of new bonds with a group of kindred spirits in prep school. In the trenches of World War I, we see the foreshadowing of the epic quest Tolkien’s characters would make through the three "Lord of the Rings" novels, and in the flashbacks, we see the highs and lows of a life that would inform that fictional journey.

      In scenes that are succinct and insightful, we see Tolkien’s mother (Laura Donnelly) reading and performing for him and his younger brother as children. After her untimely death, the boys are brought into the care of a patron named Mrs. Faulkner (Pam Ferris), who houses a number of local orphans. Here Tolkien meets Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), an aspiring pianist who proves to be the love of his life.

      At school, a jealous rivalry blossoms into an enduring friendship as Tolkien joins forces with a trio of classmates, including a bright young poet named Geoffrey Smith (Anthony Boyle). As the young men challenge each other intellectually and push forward into their chosen careers — Tolkien eventually winds up at Oxford studying linguistics — their deepening bonds mirror the relationship Tolkien builds with Edith.

      Along the way, Karukoski offers clear nods to the future novels (a soldier named Sam guides the officer Tolkien along the Western Front, for example), but the real strength of “Tolkien” is in the way it develops and explores those key relationships in the author’s life.

      The romantic thread between Tolkien and Edith plays out with grace and is marked by some excellent scenes where Collins absolutely shines. Audiences may also appreciate how the thread with Tolkien’s classmates — which clearly foreshadows the core fellowship of the future "Rings" novels — echoes the spirit of “Dead Poets Society.”

      At the same time, this drama-heavy period piece also employs some tactful and effective special effects to remind audiences that they are seeing the biopic of a fantasy author. While never as elaborate as the Peter Jackson films that would bring the novels to the screen, “Tolkien” nevertheless offers hints and flashes — sometimes only in shadow — that enhance the story without distracting from it. And the scenes that take place in the harsh reality of World War I are both subtle and haunting.

      Overall, “Tolkien” is simply moving. It is well-written, well-performed and, unlike so many contemporary films, it allows its heartfelt messages to speak for themselves rather than use clunky dialogue to get the movie up on some kind of soapbox. For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, it is a precious and worthy tribute; to non-fans, it still stands as a testament to the depth and endurance of true friendship.


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      Pundit Post

      The Truce That Won The War


          The truce that won the war

          YOM HAATZMA’UT

          The Jewish Advocate,

          The signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, 1948 PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

          The momentous U.N. vote on Nov. 29, 1947 partitioned Britain’s Palestine Mandate into Jewish and Palestinian states. The U.N. vote also stipulated a six-month extension, from November to May 15, 1948 for Britain to pack up its administration and military forces and leave Palestine.

          During this six-month period, civil war broke out as Arabs and Palestinians fought to end the Jewish state, and Jewish Palestinians fought to preserve it. This fighting that tested the Jewish armed forces was not David Ben Gurion’s major concern. He knew the critical challenge, the very survival of Israel itself, would take place on May 15 when Britain’s shield of occupancy was gone and the five Arab states bordering Israel would invade the reborn-Israel. The danger from these Arab states – Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Egypt – was their national armies equipped with the tanks, artillery and planes, as well as their enmity toward Jews.

          During the first few months of the Jewish-Arab civil war, Jews suffered losses because of the unorthodox, hit-and-run tactics of Arab irregular fighters. These Arabs would leave their villages, attack Jewish settlements and then disappear back in their homes. At first, the Haganah acted defensively, responding only when an attack was underway.

          Battles in the Israeli War of Independence MAP: WIKIPEDIA

          Battles in the Israeli War of Independence MAP: WIKIPEDIA

          It soon became apparent that acting defensively was not enough; Jews had to take the offense and operations on Arab villages followed. By the end of the winter, disrupting the bases of Arab fighters proved effective and the Israelis had mounting victories over the disorganized Arabs. This limited victory raised Jewish morale, but was just the prelude to a war that was a far greater threat once the British left.

          With the British gone and Arabs ready to attack, an Arab leader made his goal chillingly clear with the promise, “the elimination of the Jewish state.” To defend against the combined Arab force, the Israeli Haganah was more like our state police armed with small arms but without the tanks, planes and artillery necessary to fight off national armies.

          Shelled by Hagana, the Altalena, a ship carrying arms for Etzel, burns off the Tel Aviv coast on June 22, 1948 PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

          On May 15, 1948, after Ben Gurion’s formal declaration of the State of Israel, Pan-Arab armies attacked along the borders of the newborn Jewish state. The fighting that ensued surprised both Arabs and Israelis.

          After three weeks, the Israelis found they could not only defend against Arab attacks, but they were able to occupy territory that was marked as Palestinian under the U.N. partition plan. The Arabs learned that the Jewish military was stronger than they expected and problems underlying Arab war plans became apparent. Their biggest problem was that there was little coordination between the Arab armies and this was compounded with the lack of a strategic plan as to how to stretch and break Jewish defenses .Along with this glaring mistake, the Arabs had not planned on long supply lines and their troops were often short of supplies and ammunition.

          The turning point in the War of Independence came as a result of a truce sponsored by the U.N. The truce, which was to start on June 11, 1948 and last for four weeks, was administered by the U.N. and agreed to by both Israeli and Arab generals. For the Arabs, a truce would give them a chance to regroup and resupply their forces. For the Israelis, the truce was heaven sent. Now, with full control of their seaports and airfields, the Israelis could bring the mountains of supplies waiting for them in Europe, especially the heavy armaments they so badly needed.

          During the one-month truce period, the Israel Defense Forces, the new name for the Haganah, grew from about 35,000 to 65,000 men in uniform. The truce also provided the IDF the time to train these new recruits into an organized fighting force and improve their placement against Arab positions. The Arabs wasted the truce with little to show for it. A British senior officer commented on the Arab incompetence, “[The truce] would be exploited by the Jews to continue military training and reorganization while the Arabs would waste them feuding over the future division of spoils.”

          At the end of the truce on July 8, Arab armies faced an IDF that had grown in numbers and was now equipped with heavy military arms and a new confidence. More fighting and another truce would follow, again under U.N. supervision, and again the Israelis made the best use of it. But after the first truce, there was no longer a question of whether Jewish military strength could withstand a faltering Arab offensive. It was the first truce that was largely responsible for winning the 1948 War of Independence, but Arab pride would not settle for a loss to Jews – other wars would follow.

          Herb Belkin writes about modern Jewish history for The Jewish Advocate.

          I have to add that after that post, I had a spam eruption from a professional faker who produced a bunch of fake posters. His main argument is: "We all know that..."

          As I wrote before: “Politicians are sometimes less than truthful, so there have been a lot of contradictory statements made. However, I have figured out how to predict when the politicians are prepared to say their most brazen lies. They precede these lies with statements such as “As we all know,” “As we all agree,” “As all the experts agree,” or “As independent expert wrote.” All people and all experts never agree on anything. In actuality, the unnamed “independent expert” is probably someone who left the official campaign payroll a month before and is now on a Super PAC payroll.”

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          54 Years Ago. Missed Opportunity To Make Peace On The Middle East


              Fifty-one years ago this week, the youthful Jewish state proposed a peace plan that could have altered the course of Middle East history and settled the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all, had it not been soundly ignored by the Arab states and the Palestinians.


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              Wonder Woman: "No Man's Land"


                  Wonder Woman: "No Man's Land"

                  To celebrate it's 21st Anniversary, Rotten Tomatoes has assembled its "21 Most Memorable Movie Moments" and on this International Women's Day it seems appropriate to follow director Patty Jenkins as she takes us behind the scenes of the iconic “No Man’s Land” sequence from 2017’s Wonder Woman.

                  THE MOVIE: Wonder Woman (2017) 93%

                  Wonder Woman arrived in theaters with so much weight on its shoulders that it was going to take a superhero-level effort for it to really soar. The film was the first major female-led superhero movie since 2005’s Elektra, which hadn’t landed too well with critics and audiences. The new Warner Bros. film was also one of the rare big-budget superhero films with a female director – one whose background was mostly in indies (albeit one, Monster, that earned over four times its production budget at the box office and its lead actress an Oscar).

                  The DC Extended Universe was doing big numbers at the box office, but Warner Bros. had yet to have a critical win with its answer to the MCU (the first three films of the DCEU had all been Rotten on the Tomatometer). And it was coming out during a summer when “superhero fatigue” was a buzzword. And yet. Director Patty Jenkins, star Gal Gadot, and the rest of the Wonder Woman team pulled it off – and then some.

                  The movie was huge, becoming the third biggest movie of 2017 and the biggest earner so far in the DCEU at the domestic box office. On top of that, it was Certified Fresh at 93% on the Tomatometer and would be the best-reviewed comic-book movie of the year (a year that included Logan). Then there was the way it infiltrated the popular culture, a phenomenon captured in photos of young children wielding their shields and lassos and finding, in Diana from Themyscira, someone they believed in and wanted to be. Jenkins tells Rotten Tomatoes she felt the pressure to deliver – for herself as much as anyone.

                  (Photo by Clay Enos/©Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection)

                  “For me, what was important was that Diana wants to be a hero from day one, but what it is to be a hero does not become clear to her until No Man’s Land. Not until No Man’s Land does it become: No, it’s messy, the world is crazy, it’s confusing, it’s conflicted, and doing the right thing is incredibly hard and no one will come with you. And her saying, ‘That’s what I’m going to do,’ and stepping up over the edge is despite the fact that you can’t or you shouldn’t and no one will support you. That was such a powerful way for her to step into being like Wonder Woman.”

                  FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE:

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                  Pundit Post

                  What Is Settler-Colonialism?



                      The pain, anguish and anger expressed by Indigenous writers, artists, activists, scholars and musicians responding to the video is real and irreparable. Reminders of abuse at Indian boarding schools, recollections of historical domination by Christian churches—particularly the Catholic missions in California—over Native peoples, and other historical traumas were being relived on social media throughout the weekend.

                      Dedicated to all those who want to deflect from the real issue here.

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                      Freedom Of Religion, Freedom From Religion: Christians And Trump


                          Why is Christian America

                          still supporting Donald Trump?

                          Pastor Carl Gallups leading prayer at Trump rally -- (YouTube screenshot)

                          16 JAN 2019

                          Last summer, First Baptist Church of Dallas held its annual “Freedom Sunday.” The church website described the special service this way: “Celebrate our freedom as Americans and our freedom in Christ with patriotic worship and a special message from Dr. Robert Jeffress, “America is a Christian Nation.”

                          Not everyone in Dallas was happy about it. Robert Wilonsky, an opinion writer at the Dallas Morning News, wrote that Jeffress and the First Baptist Church were “divisive” for claiming that America was a Christian nation. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings agreed. Atheists protested. Eventually, the billboard company contracting with the church removed signs advertising Freedom Sunday.

                          This, of course, did not stop the service from going forward. The people of First Baptist Church spent the morning of the 24th waving American flags, wearing red, white, and blue shirts, singing the Star-Spangled Banner, and celebrating the United States military. Vice-president Mike Pence sent a letter of encouragement.

                          Was this a religious service or a celebration of nationalism? What was the object of the congregation’s worship?

                          Jeffress has been preaching his “America is a Christian Nation” sermon for a long time. On Sunday he stuck with his usual script. He indicted the “secularists, atheists, and infidels” for “perverting” the Constitution. He chided the federal government’s failure to acknowledge God in the public square. He told his congregation that academics, historians, and teachers have been lying to them about the religious roots of the United States.

                          Jeffress made one problematic historical reference after another. He made the wildly exaggerated claim that fifty-two of the original fifty-five signers of the Constitution were “orthodox conservative Christians.” He peddled the false notion that the disestablishment clause in the First Amendment was meant to apply solely to Protestant denominations.

                          Near the end of the sermon, Jeffress suggested that spikes in violence, illegitimate births, divorce, and low SAT scores in America are the direct product of the Supreme Court’s decision to remove prayer and Bible-reading from public schools.

                          Jeffress concluded the service with an altar call. He asked people to come to the front of the church and profess their faith in Jesus Christ. I am sure Jeffress was sincere in his desire to lead people to Jesus, but after his message it was unclear whether he was inviting them to accept Jesus Christ as Savior or embrace the idea that the United States was founded, and continues to be, a Christian nation. Maybe both.


                          Robert Jeffress is best known as a Fox News religion commentator and one of the first evangelical leaders to support Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. He has called Trump “the most faith-friendly president in history.”

                          Within two weeks following the announcement of his candidacy, several polls had Trump leading among white evangelical GOP voters. In November 2016, 81% of these evangelicals cast their vote for Donald Trump for President of the United States. The reasons for this are complex, and we probably need to wait a generation or two before historians can begin to make sense of them, but three young sociologists have published a scholarly essay that suggests the most plausible explanation.

                          Andrew Whitehead of Clemson University, Sam Perry of the University of Oklahoma, and Joseph O. Baker of East Tennessee State University argue that “the more someone believed the United States is—and should be—a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote for Trump.” They conclude that “no other religious factor influenced support for or against Trump.”

                          These sociologists found that the average Trump voter believes the federal government should: declare the United States a Christian nation, advocate for Christian values, oppose the “strict separation of church and state,” allow the “display of religious symbols in public spaces,” and return prayer to public schools. Likewise, Trump voters believe that whatever success the United States has had over the years is “part of God’s plan.”

                          This essay is revealing, and it confirms much of what I have written about since the 2011 release of my Was American Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. But it does not address why and how Americans have come to believe these things. The answer to that question invites us to think historically.

                          Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished in their perceived status as God’s new Israel—His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God. The defenders of this idea like to apply Chronicles 7:14 to the United States: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

                          Though dissenters have always been present, the Christian culture of the United States remained intact well into the 20th century. But since World War II, the moorings of this culture have loosened, and evangelicals have responded with fear that their Christian nation is about to collapse. Robert Jeffress is correct about this.

                          During the 1960's, the Supreme Court removed prayer and Bible reading from public schools, the federal government cut federal funding to Christian academies and colleges that practiced segregation, the country grew more diverse through immigration, and the sexual revolution threatened evangelical patriarchy and gave women the right to choose to have an abortion.

                          The fear that America’s Christian civilization was falling apart translated into political action. In the late 1970's, conservative evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye (the author of the popular Left Behind novels), and a group of politicians who had been closely affiliated with the 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, developed a political playbook to win back the culture from the forces of secularization. Most of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 understood, and continue to understand, the relationship between their faith and their politics through this playbook.

                          This playbook, which would eventual become the culture-war battle plan of the “Religious Right,” was tweaked occasionally over the years to address whatever moral issues seemed most important at the time, but it never lost its focus on “restoring,” “renewing,” and “reclaiming” America for Christ through the pursuit of political power.

                          When executed properly, the playbook teaches evangelicals to elect the right President and members of Congress who will pass laws privileging evangelical Christian views of the world. These elected officials will then appoint and confirm conservative Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, defend life in the womb, and uphold religious liberty for those who believe in traditional views of marriage.

                          The playbook rests firmly on the Religious Right’s understanding of American identity as rooted in its view of the American past. If America was not founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right’s political agenda collapses or, at the very least, is weakened severely.

                          To indoctrinate its followers in the dubious claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right has turned to political activists, many of whom claim to be historians, to propagate the idea that the founding fathers of the United States were in the business of building a Christian nation.

                          The most prominent of these Christian nationalist purveyors of the past is David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization in Aledo, Texas that claims to be “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built—a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.” Barton and Wallbuilders were the source of most of the historical information Jeffress presented in his Freedom Sunday sermon on June 24th.

                          For the past thirty years, Barton has provided pastors and conservative politicians with inaccurate or misinterpreted facts used to fuel the Religious Right’s nostalgic longings for an American Christian golden age. American historians, including those who teach at the most conservative Christian colleges, have debunked Barton’s use of the past, but he continues to maintain a large following in the evangelical community.

                          David Barton peddles fake news about the American past. Yet, if Andrew Whitehead, Sam Perry, and Joseph Baker are correct, his work is essential to the success of the Trump presidency in a way that I imagine even Donald Trump and his staff do not fully understand or appreciate.

                          Trump does not talk very much about America’s supposedly Christian origins. His grasp of history is not very strong. But his evangelical supporters see him as a gift of God—a divinely appointed figure who has emerged on the scene for such a time as this. He is in the White House to preserve God’s covenant with America, to make America Christian again.

                          The support for the President is a sign of intellectual laziness in the evangelical community. Rather than thinking creatively about how to move forward in hope, Trump evangelicals prefer to respond to cultural change by trying to reclaim a Christian world that is rapidly disappearing, has little chance of ever coming back, and may never have existed in the first place.

                          The American founding fathers lived in a world that was very different from our own. In the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, America was a nation of Christians—mostly Protestants—who put their stamp on the culture.

                          Yet, amid this Christian culture, the founders differed about the relationship between Christianity and their new nation. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison defended the separation of church and state. John Adams and George Washington also opposed mixing church and state, while at the same time suggesting that Christians, because Christianity taught an ethic of selflessness, could be useful in the creation of a virtuous republic in which citizens sacrificed self-interest for the common good.

                          The founding fathers believed in God, but most of them did not believe that God inspired the Old and New Testaments or sent His son to die and rise from the dead as the ultimate payment for human sin. The God of the Declaration of Independence is a providential deity who created the world and the people in it, but there is nothing in this important American document that defines this God in terms of the Incarnation or the Trinity.

                          The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made. Yet Barton and Jeffress invoke these founders and these documents to defend the idea that the United States was founded as a distinctly Christian nation.


                          If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

                          We do.

                          We have.

                          But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

                          I know this first-hand from some of the negative emails and course evaluation forms I received after teaching a Sunday School course on the history of religion and politics at the Evangelical Free Church congregation where my family worship every Sunday. Because I was a college history professor—even a college history professor at a Christian college with strong evangelical roots—I could not be trusted.

                          What David Barton does not understand is that there are hundreds of evangelical historians who see their work as part of their Christian identity and vocation. These historians are women and men who pursue truth about the past wherever it leads. This pursuit of truth is a deeply Christian pursuit, as is the case with all efforts to distinguish truth from error.

                          When people like David Barton cherry-pick from the past to promote political agendas, they do a disservice to the past, fail to treat it with integrity, and ultimately harm their Christian witness in the world. They make evangelicals look foolish. This is not what Paul described in 1 Corinthians 1:18 as the “foolishness of the cross,” it is just good old-fashioned foolishness. It is a product of what evangelical historian Mark Noll has described as the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”

                          Many of us engaged in trying to bring good history to the evangelical church need the support of Christians who are concerned about the direction Donald Trump, the Christian Right, and the pseudo-historians who prop-up their political agenda are trying to take the country and the church. Good history is complex. It is nuanced. And it is an essential part of truly worshipping God with our minds (Luke 10:27). Unfortunately, complexity, nuance, and intellectual discipleship are not the kinds of subjects that inspire Christians to dig into their pocketbooks.

                          What would it take to fund evangelical historians to travel to receptive churches around the country and spend some concentrated time teaching American religious history, and American history more broadly, to lay men and women? Perhaps such visits could also include times of worship and prayer?

                          It is unlikely that such an effort would reach the Robert Jeffress’ of the world. but there are many evangelicals who are open and willing to listen and learn. This was another lesson I took away from my Sunday School class. In fact, the criticism I received paled in comparison with the positive comments I got from those who had never heard a fellow evangelical offer a different, more accurate, view of American history.

                          American evangelical political engagement is built on a very weak historical foundation. It is time that Christian philanthropists, motivated by an entrepreneurial spirit informed by the pursuit of truth and a concern for the testimony of the Gospel in the world, take the long view and invest in responsible Christian thinking about the American past. The American republic, and more importantly, the witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, depends on it.

                          Additional images added by Ray Cunneff

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